The only building within the vast space that was the Dadar Union Cricket Club was often described as no more than a shabby hut. That is, until 2011, a redevelopment process saw the dilapidated structure make way for a sturdy two-storey building.
Former Indian test cricket captain Dilip Vengsarkar was in-charge of the renovation. Yet he claims that his involvement came at the behest of an elderly gentlemen. Madhav Mantri, a loyalist to the club, was a frequent visitor, who was often concerned about the shabby nature of the structure. “He requested me to try to rebuild the club. He said it was among the oldest to have given cricketers to India, but was in bad shape,” says Vengsarkar, recalling his interaction with Mantri, who was also Sunil Gavaskar’s maternal uncle.
Now, three years after the white-washed building was renovated, it stands as the last gift the 92-year-old gave Mumbai cricket before his death on Friday. The wicket-keeper batsman’s four games for the national team were not what stood out in his career.
However, his performances in the domestic first-class circle provided appealing statistics.
A career spanning over 25 years, Mantri is credited with scoring 2,787 runs for the then Bombay Ranji Trophy team with 200 against Maharashtra in the 1948-49 season being his best performance. Further accolades followed as he captained the team to three titles in the 1950s, along with a stint as leader of the Associated Cement Companies team, which included veterans like Bapu Nadkarni and Polly Umrigar.
For the Mumbai Cricket Association, Mantri will be remembered as the last cricketer to stand in as the president, before politically-backed individuals took charge of the organisation in 1992. Nonetheless, the present MCA president, Sharad Pawar, was quick to praise Mantri’s contribution to the game. “He may have looked diminutive, but he was truly one of the giants of Mumbai and Indian cricket. He served the city and the country in several capacities, and the game and it’s administration was dearer to him than anything else,” said Pawar.
His presence at the Wankhede Stadium for domestic and international matches was constant. Similarly, he would make it a point to regularly attend MCA functions, often dressed in his coveted 1952 India blazer, a piece of attire Vengsarkar claims the late cricketer wore with pride. Noted as a stickler for discipline and punctuality, MCA events often commenced on time solely because of Mantri’s presence.
Despite the respect he commanded from the bigger names in the game, he visited the ground where his career began, and where he kick-started Mumbai’s most-famous club rivalry with Shivaji Park. Situated near the tracks that pass the nearby Central Railway’s Matunga station, Mantri would often enjoy cricket at his beloved Dadar Union Club ground, regardless of the age-group. His loyalty to the club was symbolised by the new building, in which a pavilion has been named after the late stalwart.